Ever since you were elected last Monday, I have been tempted to do a bit of mansplaining to assist you in your new role! However, you will be pleased to know that I have resisted the idea largely because I didn’t think I’d last 10 minutes if I tried!
However, I did think it might be a useful time to share with you, and indeed the Party as a whole, some thoughts about how we can prepare for what is almost certainly to be a Parliament with no one-Party majority. In local government we have a lot of experience in dealing with this sort of situation.
Currently in England alone we are involved in Government in more than 70 Councils. In some we have overall control and at the other extreme in others we have passively let another Party take minority control on the basis of some assurances. All the ‘deals’ that we have done have been tailor made to suit the circumstances both historical and current of that Council and that area. This is not just an English situation. In Scotland and Wales we have a number of different shared controls and our sister party in Northern Ireland, Alliance, has some element of power sharing in almost every Council that they are in.
There do seem, however, to be five things which make arrangements work:
- A clear manifesto from the Lib Dems. As we found in 2010 having a strong, well thought out manifesto gives you a strong base for negotiation.
- A negotiation with another Party (Parties) based on values and principles and not on who gets what. In this situation Lib Dem negotiators must have a clear view of Lib Dem red lines and a feeling for the red lines of another Party (ies).
- Trust. If the people you are negotiating with are not people you can go for a pint (or cup of tea) with your Partnership will not work.
- You need to set targets and timetables so that progress can be both kept to and checked upon.
- Help with both development and maintenance of a partnership by people from outside Parliament who can be outside the swirl of passions about, ‘and what will my role be in all this’. In the case of Councils in England the Local Government Association puts in mentors to all Parties involved in partnerships for at least 4 months during the development and implementation of partnership agreements.
Usually, the agreements are between Parties. I suspect that would be very difficult in a new Parliament. As both you and Ed made clear during the Leadership election ‘deals’ with Johnson and Corbyn would be extremely difficult as they are both militant extremists in their own way. It may well be then that a partnership would be between some Parties and individuals in other Parties who could get together behind a limited number of short-term objectives, chief of which would be the revocation of Article 50. A General Election would then be called at which a return to business as normal Party politics would be made.
Clearly, we have no idea who will be in that Parliament as both Labour and Tory candidates are trying to continue their purges of the moderates and bind candidates to ludicrous pledges which would fetter their discretion in a way that should be absolutely unacceptable in a parliamentary democracy where our responsibility as elected members is to our constituents and not our Party.
So based on our considerable experience:
- Have your negotiating team ready
- Have your 5 or 6 key priorities in mind and make sure that they are the ones that will be the key planks of your next General Election campaign.
- Make a quick announcement of what you think is the way forward as to the outline of the next Parliament.
- Don’t do anything during the election which would prejudice the possibility of you doing some business with people in other Parties after it.
Just in case you think I have ended up mansplaining this is the same advice I would have offered Ed. It is also the same advice I offered Nick in 2010. If you recall the first joint meeting of the Parliamentary Parties of the Commons and Lords took place in Local Government House. I chaired it and we gave examples of good working practice only some of which were taken on Board!
I am sure that you will have much of this in your mind already. I believe that it is important that you put this in the minds of people more widely throughout the Party quickly. You may have to move decisively within hours of the results in the General Election coming through and the Party needs to give you room to get on with it. That is always easier when the general lines have been agreed throughout the Party.
You are my 10th Leader in the 52 years that I have been in the Party. You are the first woman and somehow I have a feeling that all the planetary and interplanetary forces are coming together to make you the most successful of them.
Best wishes and good luck (which always comes in handy(!)
Cllr Richard Kemp,
Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats